In the 1800's many people could not afford candles so burned what was known as rush lights- here is an article I found that tells more about them.
In small cottages there were people who could not afford any kind of candle. For them a cheap alternative was a rushlight made from a rush dipped in grease, or a burning splinter of wood. These were held pinched in a nip, also called nippers or a pair of nips, like pliers or tongs on a stand. (See photograph of a modern re-creation left. Older rushlights might be thinner.) Nips could be combined with a candle-holder for people who used both kinds of light, depending on their needs and budget at different times.